Only a 90-minute ferry ride from Vancouver in Canada’s western province of British Columbia (BC), or a 50-minute seaplane journey from Seattle in the US, a lush isle beckons with artisanal wineries and a unique climate. It’s Vancouver Island, a relatively unknown wine appellation, but a charming and convenient destination for enthusiasts.
While Vancouver Island stretches 460km north to south, most winemaking happens in a small area along its southeast coast – the Cowichan Valley, the island’s only GI sub-appellation, which surrounds the city of Duncan and extends between Mill Bay northwest up to Cowichan lake. Most wineries are on the east coast, off the Saanich Inlet.
How to get there
There are frequent flights to Victoria International (at Sidney) from Canada’s major cities (such as Vancouver: 30 mins, from $106/£64), but renting a car is necessary to visit wineries. Several daily ferries run from Vancouver (1hr 35mins into Swartz Bay, adults CA$17.20/£10). From Seattle, consider the seaplane route (50-75 mins, from about $200/£117 per person) or the Clipper ferry (2hrs 45mins, from about $99/£58 per person).
A short drive from Victoria – the island’s hub city and BC’s provincial capital – the Cowichan Valley is a breeze to navigate. The short distance between wineries – at most 20 minutes’ drive apart – allows for leisurely exploration.
‘Winemaking’ on the island dates back 100 years, first using loganberries (a blackberry-raspberry cross) to create fruit wines. The focus turned to grapes in the 1980s with the Duncan Project, a government-led test site initiative. Over seven years, more than 100 grape varieties were trialled before the government withdrew funding. Today, a vibrant community of winemakers produce a diverse array of grapes that reflect the island’s individual microclimates.
Nearby mountains shield the Cowichan Valley from Pacific ocean storms from the west. The First Nations Salish translation of Cowichan is ‘warm land’, epitomising the area’s long, dry growing season with low frost risk. Thanks to a year-round average temperature warmer than anywhere else in Canada, the island’s climate is known as ‘Maritime Mediterranean’.
Hybrid varieties such as Ortega, Auxerrois and Maréchal Foch were the focus in the early days, while today – thanks in part to climate change – some Vitis vinifera flourish, particularly Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. However, Chardonnay will soon be the most planted white grape variety.
This potential has attracted international investment. California-based Jackson Family Wines (JFW) owns two Cowichan Valley properties, accounting for 53ha of the island’s area under vine: 130ha according to the BC Wine Grape Council’s report for 2022.
JFW family members bought Unsworth in 2020, focusing on sustainable vineyard practices. Disease-resistant cross-varieties developed by Swiss geneticist Valentin Blattner since the 1980s, such as Petite Milo, Cabernet Libre and Labelle, play an important role in Unsworth’s signature white and red blends Allegro and Symphony respectively. Its Charme de L’Ile sparkling wines (a trademarked concept used by Vancouver Island producers who make Charmat-method wines) are BC’s most accessible expressions of the style.
In 2022, JFW also acquired Blue Grouse, one of Cowichan Valley’s pioneering wineries. Its portfolio centres around Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and 30-year-old dry-farmed Pinot Gris. Annual production is about 84,000 bottles, set to increase to 120,000.
While most of Vancouver Island’s wineries offer a year-round visiting experience, it’s…
Source : https://www.decanter.com/wine/vancouver-island-a-wine-lovers-guide-519251/